Senator seeks protection for people who rescue pets from hot cars

State Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick, R-Marietta, has proposed an amendment, Senate Bill 32, that would protect citizens from a lawsuit if they damage a vehicle to rescue an animal in danger.

She said the idea came out of the Senate committee studying whether laws were needed to regulate service or support animals. Kirkpatrick said she has a 14-year-old golden doodle therapy dog named Dobie, “so they put me on that committee.”

As she looked into the current protections for animals, “I started noticing that there was nothing in there for someone trying to rescue an animal in distress.”

Kirkpatrick said she is adding language to an existing law protecting those who rescue children from cars. It was passed in the wake of the high-profile death of 22-month-old Cooper Harris, who was killed by his father Justin Ross Harris in a hot car in Cobb County during 2015. Harris was sentenced to life without parole.

In her bill, anyone who breaks a window to rescue an animal in distress must also call 911 to be immune from civil liability.

“That would mitigate the possibility of someone just kidnapping an animal” or breaking a window and later claiming it was to save an animal, she said.

The senator said she didn’t want the bill to get into the time limits and temperature thresholds because “that’s when bills get in trouble, when you get too specific.”

“I’m hoping anybody who’s reasonable and acting in good faith would give it a minute … before they go break somebody’s window,” she said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the temperature inside a car on an 80-degree day can rise 20 degrees within the first 10 minutes, even with the window cracked.

Because most hot car deaths of children are accidental, some automotive companies have installed features to alert drivers to something in their back seats before getting out of the car.

Sen. Michael “Doc” Rhett, D-Marietta, has proposed similar legislation, Senate Bill 31, that would make law enforcement officers not liable for breaking a vehicle window to save a person or pet.

Kirkpatrick said her proposal would be heard in the Special Judiciary Committee, which is led by Sen. Jennifer Jordan, D-Atlanta. Kirkpatrick said Thursday that a hearing date had not yet been set.

She said she doesn’t expect any problems. “This is not that kind of a bill.”

By Ben Brasch, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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